In The Last Full Measure (LFM), a fast-rising US Department of Defense staffer Scott Huffman (Stan Sebastian) takes up a personal mission to help right a wrong from the days of the Vietnam war.

Set in 1999, mere months before newly selected staff moves into office, Huffman is saddled with the responsibility to investigate the Medal of Honour request for the late William H. Pitsenbarger (Jeremy Irvine), a US Air Force Pararescueman who saved 60 men and flew 300 missions during the war.

Pitsenbarger was posthumously awarded an Air Force Cross but, according to the platoon whose lives he saved — William Hurt, Samuel L. Jackson, John Savage, Ed Harris and the late Peter Fonda — the martyr was under-rewarded for his sacrifice. Their request to upgrade the award (which no airman has received till date then), however, had fallen prey to negligence and political red-tape for three decades (Bradley Whitford, from The West Wing, gives bureaucracy its human form).

The veterans, though, are diligent in their pursuit, and Huffman, who is constantly reminded of his natural disposition to “climb and prosper” in life, grows a conscience after interviewing platoon members and meeting Pitsenbarger’s parents (Christopher Plummer and Diane Ladd).

Despite the intention of telling a worthwhile story, The Last Full Measure doesn’t wish to highlight anything controversial

LFM is a true story of celebrating the country’s heroes, doing the right thing, fighting the good fight within the system… and, in the scope of similarly-themed movies, of delivering a harrowing, applause-worthy emotional climax at the very end.

A Few Good Men, though, this ain’t.

Most of LFM is tonally passive. One can feel that despite the intention of telling a worthwhile story, the film doesn’t wish to highlight anything controversial.

Todd Robinson, screenwriter and producer of the Ridley Scott-directed White Squall (1996) and director of Lonely Hearts (2006) and Phantom (2013), writes and directs this smallish story with a lot of melodrama, and almost no over-amplified conflict. The most drama one sees has men in suits walking the Pentagon hallways putting their points across in civil tones. Sometimes they argue in restaurants, alleys, parking lots and offices.

To offset the drama, harried, deafening flashbacks showing Pitsenbarger’s last moments in the battlefield are sporadically edited in. The jolt, often unwarranted and ill-timed, doesn’t help the story nor builds sentiments. Also, the action is shot in a done-to-death manner, and one can see budget restraints.

Actually, one sees the lack of budget throughout modern-day scenes as well, which are, thankfully, carried by powerful, earnest performances from the cast.

There is some measure of scene-chewing (Hurt, going for broke, sobs, collapses, and all but spits at the camera in one shot), but at least it gives you something to remember LFM by.

Sebastian (whose character is made-up for the story) and his co-stars appear one-dimensional, irrespective of commanding a lot of screen-time with scenes of personal turmoil and trauma. The story moves without depth right until the background score cranks up the emotions at the very end, and the cast assembles to applaud the government for doing the right thing.

Produced by Habib Paracha — of the Nicolas Cage- and Elijah Wood-starrer The Trust (2016), and the Margot Robbie-starrer The Terminal (2018) fame — The Last Full Measure is rated R for scenes of grisly warfare.

Published in Dawn, ICON, February 9th, 2020